Welcome to the December 2018 edition of the Sarah Ellis Coaching Career Inspo Blog!
This is a monthly interview with someone who has followed their passion, dreamed big and now has a successful and exciting career. Whether you are searching for your passion or looking for guidance and insight from those in your chosen industry, the Career Inspo blog will have something for everyone. From Chief Executives, to inventors, from property moguls to artistic entrepreneurs, the 2018 line up is certainly set to provide plenty of inspiration and motivation!
For the final blog of 2018 I interviewed Craig Sullivan, Owner and Director of Student House Gillingham. When I decided to launch the Career Inspo Blog, Craig was one of the first people that I added to my interview wish list. I have known Craig for a long time, since we were both starting our careers in television, and it was clear even back then that Craig had big ambitions for his career in property. Over the years it has been incredible to see Craig’s drive and hard work lead him to achieve goal after goal, and has seen him build Student House Gillingham into the leading provider of student houses in Medway.
Sarah Ellis: Craig, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for the Career Inspo Blog. Please can you start by providing a summary of your business and what you do:
Craig Sullivan: Student House Gillingham is a letting agency which specialises solely in Student Lets. We target a growing niche in UK letting market and provide high-quality private residential housing to University Students in Medway. My Role within that is company Owner/Director. As a small business owner, I wear many hats and head up the Marketing, HR, Sales, Business operations & compliance and Accounts, as well as general day to day, such as stationary and office request – although I’m working hard to delegate a lot more now.
CS: I’ve always had an interest in property development from a young age as my Dad had always renovated our family homes whilst growing up. Plus from being a young teenager I would work on sites as a Saturday labourer which really cut my teeth on how to be a property developer.
As time went on and I watched programmes such as ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ (BBC) and ‘Property Ladder’ (Channel 4), I came to learn that there was a lot of money to be made in renovating property. This only fuelled my passion and spearheaded my determination to get my first project under my belt.
While at University I had a really bad experience with a Student let landlord who did not fulfil his promises or meet expectations when it came to letting out the property. As I talked with friends who were also in Privately rented accommodation nearby, they too were also not happy about the quality of housing and the service they were receiving. This planted the seed and really opened my eyes to a huge opportunity here.
SE: What was your route into this career?
CS: I studied Business Studies at degree level but after attending my placement year I decided not to go back and instead focus my efforts on a Sales career for a large TV broadcast company. During this time, I purchased my first property at auction (at age of 23) which was documented by the BBC and appeared on their show ‘Homes Under the Hammer’. That was a huge learning curve, but after that, I had the ‘property bug’ and I continued to save money and develop my property portfolio in Kent in the South-East. I soon came to realise that there was a gap in the market for high-end student properties and began to replicate his business model; buying below market value properties, adding value cost effectively, securing good tenants and refinancing to repeat the process. After building a portfolio of six student properties I eventually had enough security (income wise) and left my corporate job to pursue property full-time (at the age of 28).
As my personal portfolio was growing, I was approached by local landlords to manage their properties too. I immediately agreed and after some cheap flyers and a DIY website, my letting agency was born. That letting agency is now the largest provider of Student Houses in Medway, overtaking High Street names and local businesses who have been in the market for 25+ years.
SE: What have been your biggest challenges/learning curves?
CS: As like most entrepreneurs – your business is your baby and I’ve worked extremely hard to build the business to where it is today. I like to think everyone that knows me, will say that I give 110% in everything that I do towards Student House Gillingham. From 7am starts to 1am finishes, I know there is a direct correlation between how good a person becomes at something based on the time that they dedicate to learning it well.
Since leaving my 9 to 5 London job and focusing on my business full time, I’ve come to realise being an Entrepreneur is rewarding but also very lonely at times. It’s great when you hit goals or get recognition from a client, however there is a lot of ground work that goes into it, most of which can be delegated to internal staff or contracted to third parties. Being an Entrepreneur is mostly a singular position, so you won’t have teammates to rely on (completely). I work lots of hours, so I won’t see my family as often and sometimes feel as though you miss out.
One way I have learned to overcome this is by outsourcing and delegating work to third parties which frees up time and also enables me to focus on my core responsibilities. I’ve noticed that the business feels more efficient and I have less pressure to deal with. At first, I found delegating hard as being a business owner you want everything to be perfect and the only person that knows best is you! However, doing everything yourself takes up lots of time and eventually you come to the reality that you are not Superman and you need help…quickly! As such, as the business has grown substantially over the last 3 months, I have advertised for a Social Media Intern to work on a full-time basis to manage the marketing and our Social Media space which is an important task and large part of my time. Although I enjoy doing it, I need to be focusing on growing the business by speaking with landlords, meeting investors and greeting tenants. Not only that but I feel the person right for this role will be more engaged and relevant to my target audience in this field making it a no-brainer to pass on.
CS: Our biggest achievement this year; is securing an impressive 100% occupation rate (fully let) for the fifth year running, even when taking on additional property stock. This year we have secured tenancies for 69 student properties (housing 270 Medway students in total) which is a colossal achievement for us, overtaking the High Street agents who are larger in size and have been in the market far longer than us. When comparing property stock our competitors still have large volumes of student properties still available on the market, which is not a conversation I’d want to be having to one of my landlord’s in that position..! This shows how strong our brand is in-demand our student properties (and service) are, in comparison to what our competitors are offering.
SE: What key strengths do you have that make you great at what you do?
CS: I’m good with People – Property is definitely a people-business and keeping your word is crucial in order to get the best deals and great tenants. When starting off I used to do-the-rounds and view loads of properties to get myself known locally. I’ve secured many great investments with local agents because of my no-nonsense approach and the price I say is the price I pay. Over time this has worked in my favour as they now come to me with the deals when there’s a fall-through or a property has been on the market a long time for a sure-sale.
The same can be said to the landlords and tenants in my letting business. If you promise the World and deliver a pebble no-one will ever come back and leave a negative review.
I’m also good with Money – I’ve always found that in property you have to have money, to make money. I’ve learned to be very disciplined with my spending and have a saying that “Cashflow is King”.
SE: Do you have a role model/mentor? If so, what have you learnt from them that has helped you in your business?
CS: My Dad is my biggest mentor. I cut my teeth on property because of him and he has taught me the fundamentals of property development. Because of his teachings, I can accurately price up a project which is great tool to have when developing on a budget.
CS: TAKE ACTION. It doesn’t matter what goal you have – if you sit around planning, thinking, dwelling or waiting, it’s never going to happen! You need to be accountable for hitting your goal and making your vision a reality starts with you TAKING ACTION. Done beats perfect every time! You can get perfect later on…
SE: Finally, what are the top 3 things to consider when choosing and pursuing a meaningful and exciting career?
CS: 1) You need to be passionate about what you do
2)Follow your gut
3) Start NOW
If you’d like to keep up to date with Student House Gillingham and properties available for rent, you can follow them on Instagram and Facebook. You can also follow Craig, a.k.a Property Apprentice, on his Instagram page.